September 27, 2018 / 10:31 AM / a year ago

Polish ombudsman wins Norwegian human rights award

FILE PHOTO: People in front of the Presidential Palace during a protest against judicial reforms in Warsaw, Poland, November 24, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

OSLO (Reuters) - A Norwegian human rights foundation gave its annual prize on Thursday to Polish lawyer Adam Bodnar and the civil society group he heads for their work defending minority rights and judicial independence in Poland.

Changes to the judiciary made by Poland’s nationalist government, such as lowering the retirement age of Supreme Court judges, triggered a lawsuit on Monday from the European Union over what the bloc believes to be a violation of the independence of courts in a member country.

Norway’s Rafto Foundation said Adam Bodnar, 41, and the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights in Poland were selected for “the important stance taken in the face of current political developments in Poland”.

Four past Rafto laureates - Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, East Timor’s Jose Ramos-Horta, South Korea’s Kim Dae-jung and Iran’s Shirin Ebadi — later went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. This year’s Peace Prize will be announced on Oct. 5 in Oslo.

“Adam Bodnar has highlighted the crucial role played by independent ombudsman institutions in safeguarding human rights in Poland - and other countries - where such actors and institutions increasingly have come under attack,” the foundation said in a statement.

Bodnar, in a statement issued through the foundation, said the prize showed recognition for Poland’s civil institutions and human rights.

“The award is not just an award to my work and the institution, but mostly a support from your community given to the Polish civil society, academia, judges and lawyers fighting for rule of law, juridical independence, pluralism and protection of minorities in Poland,” he said.

Bodnar as a civil servant cannot accept the $20,000 prize money so it will be donated to civic rights groups in Poland.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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